Why Big Words?

24,000 Words

That’s how many words kindergartners should understand.

To achieve that incredible number, children must learn 13 words a day before age five!

To learn a new word, a child needs to hear it as many as 12 times, but adult conversations only use about 3,000 words. Reading aloud is the best way to expose children to new words!

Tiny Little Rocket

Give your little one “unfurled” as a beautiful new Big Word! while enjoying the fun rhyme and trip through the solar system! This one is a gem!

The War That Saved My Life

Books empower, save lives, bring solace to hopeless situations and enrich joyful ones. Such power deserves to be illustrated and celebrated. “The War That Saved My Life” is subtle in its fanfare. The protagonists are initially fearful of words and disdainful of people who use rich vocabulary. But their loving adoptive caretaker is gentle and steadfast in her own use of enticing language. She shelters the two abused war refugees with earnest compassion, which allows them to overcome their negative attitudes then grow as logophiles themselves. 

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley has crafted an engaging and beautiful illustration of how giving children tools for discovery, then exposing them to challenging words, empowers them to understand new words better than any vocabulary workbook ever could. We Jamie is first introduced to the word ‘bank’ and deduces its meaning through observation: ‘money store’! Listeners experience word-learning alongside Ada as she puzzles through ‘mollified’, ‘resolved’, and more.  


Unlike any of the books I’ve previously reviewed, “The War That Saved My Life” is not a picture book. It is not meant for toddlers. Readers tackle war relocation, verbally abusive adults and strategies for overcoming fear. Topics too weighty for kids under eight, but approachable for older kids through this happy-ending story. I’m including here for its incredible celebration of words and because I want all my friends to be listening to read-alouds LONG after they’ve learned to read themselves.


Enjoy! And let me know your thoughts on this lovely book.

Interrupting Chicken

September 24th, 2016, my cheeks nearly cracked from a day of joyous grinning! At The Princeton Children’s Book Festival , I met authors and illustrators of my favorite children’s books. I was surrounded by the greats, including David Ezra Stein, who was there with his son. He seemed surprised by my fan-girl thrill at meeting him and watching him autograph my book and said he was happy to know that it was proving to be such a valuable tool for me.

Interrupting Chicken, from Candlewick Press, is incredibly useful in both parenting and speech therapy! Interrupting is such a tricky topic, especially when you’re dealing with excited kids who want to share their ideas. This book provides a brilliant format for dealing with interrupting in a playful fashion. Adults are given the opportunity to express the frustration of interruption by voicing the father chicken as he struggles to be patient with he ebullient and creative daughter. I love using a growly, low and slow voice to contrast with the high-pitched energy I give the child. I love to pause and ask young listeners how they think the father chicken feels. They know what it’s like to be interrupted and can empathize with his irritation. We talk about it and come up with playful strategies for dealing with the issue, all in a playful, blame-free setting.

As an added bonus, Stein uses ‘involved’ and ‘stray’ in the short, simple text. These are two words that rarely enter my conversations with young children, so I know I’m getting a few extra ‘big words’ in their ears while I’m laughing and teaching about patience. Grab this one the next time you find yourself telling a kid to stop interrupting.


 Isabella: Girl On the Go and Isabella: Girl in Charge

Political climate, supportive friends and opportunities to share inspiring books have brought me back to this blog after a long hiatus. Now, more than ever, it feels important to revel in the joy and possibilities created by reading aloud to children.

This post begins a new phase for Big Words Matter. My curiosity about and commitment to the idea of harnessing generative language development as a possible panacea to the world’s ills have grown. I’m anxious to find and share books adults can use to teach great vocabulary in loving, playful environments. I’ll still be in search of those books that are fun to read in addition to containing great vocabulary, but my focus is shifting toward the words themselves. Little kids need big words filling their ears in tiny daily doses and playful, loving settings to prepare them for the exciting challenges ahead. Readers have the power to modify and create fun, and the ‘fun to read’ perfection I previously sought is highly dependent on the participants in the moment.

In addition to reviewing and sharing Big Word books, I’ll be using Big Words Matter to ponder the evidence emerging from diverse fields demonstrating that many experts think reading aloud from birth on is the answer to society’s woes.

“Isabella: Girl On The Go” and “Isabella: Girl In Charge” are books I had the privilege of sharing with my adorable and empowered nieces when we met in Washington, D.C. with over half a million other impassioned citizens to protest the denigration of integral members of our society by the newly elected president and his followers. I chose them for their message and their vocabulary and was well-rewarded. My six-year old niece asked, “What is an ‘archaeologist’?” and we had fun imagining and predicting what form Isabella’s side-kick stuffed mouse might take on the next page. My four-year old niece quickly learned the pattern the author uses in both books: responsive parents calling Isabella by her most-recently declared name or persona, to which Isabella declares, “I’m not…….” before enlightening her parent to her newest role. My nieces noticed details in the pictures and humored me as I marveled at the amazing women Isabella imitated in each book.

“Isabella: Girl On the Go” moves our heroine through careers and geographic locations while “Isabella: Girl in Charge” follows her through history and names of women who achieved important firsts in political history. “Girl in Charge” ends with Isabella attending the inauguration of our first Madam President.

These books offer readers options. They have simple, patterned stories that can be completed as quick 5-minute reads. The illustrations are detailed and nuanced with surprises that bring you back for re-reading and new discoveries. At the end, the artists have provided paragraphs on the careers, locations and individuals highlighted in the story, allowing readers to delve more deeply when desired.

Thank you for bringing me back, Isabella.

April Pulley Sayre’s Books

Joyful big words about FOOD! With vibrant photos of edibles familiar and novel, April Pulley Sayre celebrates the fun and fascination of things we eat. The words beg to be memorized, then get stuck in your head and return in the grocery store as you shop. These books are a pleasure for eyes, ears and mouth. Enjoy!

Chicken Little

Rebecca Emberley and Ed Emberley
Author/Illustrator team

Big Words:


I remember Ed Emberley drawing books from my childhood. I loved to copy his simple steps to create recognizable animals, faces and objects. So I was thrilled to find a storybook written and illustrated by by Emberley and his daughter.

My friend, Stacy, a thoughtful and purposeful preschool teacher, recommended this book for the great vocabulary. The list of birds joining Chicken Little’s flock as he runs to escape the falling sky is a beautiful example of divergent naming, and Emberley demonstrates synonyms for ‘said’ useful in modeling variety in writing. The art is worth studying and imitating, too. Graphic images and simple shapes convey meaning and emotion without intimidating detail. Young artists will be inspired.

Best of all, Chicken Little is fun to read! This is a quick read with repetitive text and opportunity for read-alouders to use goofy voices as each bird talks to the next. Tongue-in-cheek asides and a surprise ending add extra layers of fun for adults.

Find Chicken Little and read it today!

Thesaurus Rex

Author Laya Steinberg
Illustrator Debbie Harter
I stumbled upon Thesaurus Rex by chance, while searching for books to teach comparison concepts. It was a lucky find. Thesaurus Rex is a great example of the expansion parents can practice with any book. The author uses numerous synonyms or closely related words for many adventures we observe through the story. Author Laya Steinberg gives us four new words for mud:
“Thesaurus Rex lands in mud: slime, slush, mire and muck. Oh no! Now he’s stuck.”
By imitating this strategy in daily read-alouds, parents can increase the number and variety of words their kids hear in a fun and playful way. Changing ‘mud’ to ‘mire’ or ‘muck’ or replacing ‘big’ with ‘huge’ or ‘gigantic’ adds interest and fun for everyone. Thesaurus Rex is a terrific book for learning and practicing this BigWords strategy. Enjoy!

Big Words:


Imagination Library

Dolly Partons Imagination Library

While this is not a BigWords title, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is such an important resource for families and communities, I need to post about it here to spread the word.

Dolly Parton established Imagination Library ten years ago as a gift to the world. She mails a book a month to every child from birth to five in participating communities. It is offered worldwide and is currently serving nearly a million kids. Researchers have studied the effects and found daily read-alouds increased in Imagination Library communities increased dramatically!

Schools, faith groups, United Ways, community foundations, and individuals sponsor the programs and take donations. Participating communities commit to serving all children within a defined geographic area, insuring that kids from all socioeconomic strata receive the same books. Parents describe joyful kids racing to the mailbox and insisting on hearing the stories over and over and over. Family connections are built and brains are developed in homes receiving these incredible books.

New magic happens when Imagination Library children meet in kindergarten classrooms. They see familiar books, race to the bookshelves, and yell, “I have this book!” Friends circle, declaring, “So do I!” An instant connection is formed around the shared experience and passion. These children begin with a shared lexicon from which to grow and learn together.

Big words matter.

I’m working to get Imagination Library in my community. Check here to see if it is in yours. If not, contact your regional director to find out how to get it there.

The Pout-Pout Fish

Author Deborah Diesen
Illustrator Dan Hanna
Children’s librarians are an asset to any book search. Amber, the outreach librarian at Sheppard Library, recommended The Pout-Pout Fish. I have to admit I would never have guessed, based on the title, that this book would meet my big-word and fun-to-read goals. But Amber knows good books.

Reading this book is so fun! The title character is that miserable, moaning person we all know. Giving voice to such challenging behavior through a cartoon fish allows mockery without meanness.  Be careful, though, kids are perceptive and often know just the person you have in mind as you turn on your Pout-Pout voice. As the whiny fish swims through the ocean, spreading gloom, he meets cheerful sea creatures. Each well-described friend shows up for one page, so read-alouders can be flamboyantly playful with voices, knowing we don’t have to remember and replicate them for return appearances of the characters.

Thankfully, the helpless Pout-Pout fish finds reason to smile and abandon his petulance, providing parents talking points about resilience, resourcefulness, and purposefulness. It could be a useful tool when talking about whining.

In addition to rare words, fun reading, and meaningful message, The Pout-Pout Fish presents the figurative phrase, ‘pearl of advice’. Figurative language is the foundation of humor and is fun to explain and enjoy with kids. The rhyming text is repetitive, and the illustrations are bright and bold, so it’s good for all ages. Start early. Read often.

Big words: